Following the stellar Mates Of State show at the Oriental I trekked to the downtown Denver Virgin Megastore (now closing in 5 days - everything is 40% off!) to pick up one of their albums. I wanted, after the live show, an impression of the band as a polished, studio group. Albums are artistic expressions of a certain phase in a band's existence, and the mish-mashed set-lists of concerts don't always convey those periods. There's also something to be said for the non-remastered, generally rockier way in which bands play live shows. When working a crowd, flamboyant and powerful drumming and keyboard playing, and screamy vocals are must haves. I mean, what is less engaging than a live show where the band is stone-faced and sounds exactly like the album? (Other than being water-boarded for the 88th time--U.S.A.! U.S.A.!) And since I worked the system backward, let's talk about a Mates Of State album in contrast to the live show. This is gonna be poppy, well-mixed, and at times repetitive.
2008's Re-Arrange Us is a really solid album. Most of these infectious, but repetitive piano/drum power-pop tunes are entirely catchy and a lot of fun. These songs, rather logically, were almost all played during the live show. The lead-off track, and single, "Get Better" stuck with me, at least subconsciously since the show, which means they did a solid job. Follow-up tracks, "Now" and "My Only Offer" are just as ingrained in my musical memory, which is actually a great compliment to the band. Not only catchy, but memorable, Mates Of State has succeeded in burrowing into my cortex like few pop bands have in recent years. The difference, and only a minor disappointment, is that the recorded band is not as lively and vibrant as the live one. (This is often the case... but the album feels appreciably "softer" than the live show and the drums feel dialed back. Say what you will about drum mixing at a concert, but feeling the bass drum pounding in your chest like a second heart is exhilarating as hell. The album invites that feeling, but puts it in the child-safety seat buckled in the back row.)
Above all, the album is fun. And thoughtful in spots, as they hit the usual slow-down tracks without hitting the tear-jerking lows of bands like Stars or The Shins. Mates remind me of Tegan & Sara, both musically and vocally, but minus the combined, at times lethal, shrillness of vocals and sad-sappiness of lyrics. The up-tracks are fast, quirkily bouncy and it's easy to learn the lyrics so singing along is an added bonus. If you're looking for an elitist, indie music experience wrought with "walls of sounds" and "somber, metaphorical lyrics" Mates Of State won't hit the mark. But if you want to listen to music that makes you feel good after it's over, and makes your feet tap a bit (hell, I could get up and dance right now) then throw on Re-Arrange Us, or I imagine other of their discs, and enjoy. I mean these two Indie-poppers love each other. And there's something pretty fucking special about that.
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